24 Sep
human rights defender

We are privileged to have met a young, passionate human rights defender - and HRDAP 2018 alumni - who works so that everyone can "live in a better world, a just and humane society in harmony with nature and climate."

21 Sep

In a statement at the UN Human Rights Council today, Sophie Luo called for the immediate release of her husband, activist Ding Jiaxi, and a clear commitment by the Council to addressing rights violations in China.

17 Sep

In a devastating report, a group of independent UN experts on Venezuela outline evidence of crimes against humanity carried out in the country at the direction of high-level State authorities, with the active participation of President Maduro and Ministers of the Interior and of Defence.  What will the Human Rights Council now do to ensure accountability for such crimes and justice for victims?

15 Sep

The right to non-discrimination and the right to life are essential to all societies. At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, ISHR and ten Swiss-based NGOs* called today on Switzerland to ensure accountability in police violence cases.

24 Sep

As the 66th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the Commission’) ended on 7th August, what were the main highlights of this first ever online session organised by the Commission?

Committee on Enforced Disappearances must protect NGOs from reprisals


(Geneva, 15 July,  2013) - The UN's expert Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) should ensure that its working methods protect NGOs and victims from intimidation and reprisals, said the International Service for Human Rights today. In a joint submission to the CED, together with Child Rights Connect, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), FIACAT, International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), and Al-Karama, ISHR presented a series of suggestions to the Committee.

In a draft document outlining its relationship with civil society, the Committee recognised that civil society has a key role to play in assisting it in discharging its mandate effectively. 'This is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the contribution of civil society to the work of the treaty bodies,' said Heather Collister of the International Service for Human Rights.

The draft document identifies a series of areas in which civil society is strongly encouraged to participate in the Committee’s work, including assisting victims of enforced disappearance to submit complaints, submitting alternative reports for State reviews, translating the Committee’s documents into local languages, and organising trainings to raise awareness of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. While this range of activities demonstrates that the Committee recognises the potential of civil society to assist it in carrying out its mandate, the purpose of the document is set out as to clarify and further develop the Committee’s relationship with civil society actors and to enhance their contribution in the implementation of the Convention at the domestic level. 'Enhancing the contribution of civil society demands Committee facilitate the contribution of civil society, and protect those that engage with it ', Ms Collister said.

The draft does include some steps that the Committee plans to undertake to facilitate the participation of civil society. ISHR, Al-Karama, Child Rights Connect, FIACAT, IMADR, and CELS welcome also the Committee’s recognition of the need for civil society to have advance notice of reporting schedules, in order that it can plan its input [paragraph 9], the encouragement of the use of technology to facilitate participation [paragraph 24], and the note that Committee members are ready to consider participating in awareness-raising activities organised by civil society [paragraph 27].

The joint NGO contribution sets out additional efforts that the Committee could undertake to do to facilitate civil society’s engagement and participation, and develop a mutually reinforcing and sustainable relationship. The submission is available here.

Special Rapporteur on violence against women calls on States to address socio-cultural factors


The annual reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, and on independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Rashida Manjoo and Ms Gabriela Knaul, were presented to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 25 June, in a clustered interactive dialogue. Knaul’s report studied the professional independence of judges and lawyers - in particular prosecutors - whilst Manjoo’s report analysed the phenomenon of violence against women.[1]

Special Rapporteur Knaul opened the session by giving a brief presentation of her report. The report’s focus is on prosecutors and the safeguards required to ensure an objective and impartial functioning of prosecution services. It also examined the line between the need for accountability in the discharge of a prosecutor’s functions, which include protecting human rights, and how to ensure his or her independence and freedom from fear, pressure, threats, or favour. She highlighted the obligation of States to provide these necessary safeguards to enable prosecutors to perform their functions in an objective, impartial, and independent manner.

Ms Knaul also noted more generally her concern about reprisals against judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other actors from the judicial system who cooperate, or seek to cooperate, with UN and regional human rights mechanisms, including through their role in implementing decisions taken by those mechanisms. She offered the President of the Council her full support in calling for all acts of reprisals to be investigated, prosecuted, and perpetrators punished, in particular when those acts are aimed at actors from the judicial system.

Rashida Manjoo’s report pays special attention to the rising number of gender-related killings of women worldwide. The Special Rapporteur noted that the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘feminicide’, as opposed to more neutral words such as homicide, capture not only the killing itself, but also the impunity and institutional violence aspects of such crimes. She described femicide as ‘a State crime tolerated by public institutions and officials – due to the inability to prevent, protect, and guarantee the lives of women’. She noted several different kinds of gender-related killings, including honour-related killings dowry-related killings, and sexual orientation and gender identity-related killings. She added that it was important to disaggregate data about killings by factors including sexual orientation, race, and economic status, in order to establish systemic patterns behind the violence.

The Special Rapporteur also referred to a previous report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, on women defenders, noting that this group is perceived as challenging cultural and social norms, including about femininity and sexual orientation, as a result of which they are at risk of suffering violence and other violations. Several ways of modifying gender norms, such as increasing the number of women in education and in public institutions, were then elaborated upon by the Special Rapporteur.

The dialogue, whilst genial and constructive, tended to concentrate on States’ national strategies. There were, however, a few States that raised challenges to the mandate holders. The Egyptian delegation in particular categorically rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, claiming this notion falls outside of international human rights law. The delegate warned that inclusion of this concept could create division, and hinder the creation of the consensus required to end violence against women. While the State added that combating violence against women requires challenging ‘the persisting misinterpretation of cultural, religious and societal norm and traditions which may result in sustained discrimination against women and by inference may lead to violence’ it rejected the direct link made by the Special Rapporteur between discrimination against women and girls, and killings.

Brazil, the Holy See, and the United States (US) brought up the subject of women human rights defenders. The Holy See began by stressing the ‘importance of women’s roles in the family’, and women, ‘as spouses and mothers, as fundamental to the preservation of the institution of family and therefore society’. It added, however, that women needed to be protected from violence in particular in unstable, violent situations, and noted its special concern in these contexts for women human rights defenders. Further it stated that ‘judicial impunity, cultural and social norms that tolerate discrimination and fail to address violent acts…must be addressed and rejected’. The US noted the important role that civil society organisations have to play in changing social perceptions of women. Brazil divulged its own efforts to protect women human rights defenders with its federal protection programme. Since February this year two human rights defenders had been taken into protective care.

Almost every State voiced their deep concern at the increasing trend of violence against women. Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group, informed the Council about best practices enacted by the Arab Group’s member States. The Organisation of Arab Women and the Arab League have contrived a strategy to fight violence against women, which involves helping Arab States to establish their own national action plans. The initiative - designed to reform legal, administrative, and cultural institutions - would provide preventative protection,[2] data collection, as well as follow-up to cases and evaluation for the women involved. Jordan, also responding to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to the country, further described its creation of both a Minister of State for Women and the establishment of a national strategy for women. These initiatives were set up in response to the nation’s culture of honour killings. On average each year 25 females are killed as a result of ‘honour’ attacks in Jordan.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which had each received visits from the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, praised Knaul’s reports, before mentioning some of the recommendations which they had already implemented. Bulgaria’s creation of a special office for organised crime and Romania’s extensive judicial reform both stood out as examples of implemented recommendations.

[1] Manjoo’s report analysed the causal link between violence against women, and the killing of women. She suggests that there is a direct correlation between the two.
[2] These include shelters and free legal assistance

Council creates a Special Rapporteur on Belarus following politicised debate


On 26 June the European Union (EU) convened an informal meeting to discuss a resolution on Belarus with the intention of creating a Special Rapporteur on the country. During the meeting Belarus walked out. Its delegates voiced their dissatisfaction at what they described as ‘the political hi-jacking’ of the Council by the EU - a point echoed by Russia, Cuba, and China . This informal meeting was held the day before the Council held an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the situation in Belarus, and did not bode well for Belarus’ positive engagement in that dialogue.

The High Commissioner’s report on the situation in Belarus, presented the next day, was a follow-up to a preliminary oral report presented by her Office to the Council’s 18th session, and is in compliance with Council resolution 17/24. The report investigates gross human rights violations that took place on 19 December 2010 after Aliaxander Lukashenka’s controversial re-election. Mass protests turned into mass arrests, after police were reported to have used extreme brutality to suppress demonstrators. The High Commissioner’s presentation raised several important points. These issues ranged from Belarus’s use of the death penalty, to its recent censorship and arrest of human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition party members. The High Commissioner, in her presentation, appealed for the release of Belarus’s most prominent human rights defender - Ales Bialiatski. Arrested last year for tax evasion, he faces a four-year sentence. Ms Pillay then appealed for the release of all other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders and members of the press.

Despite being written from Geneva, due to the failure of the Belarusian authorities to allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) access to the country, the High Commissioner’s report analysed many accounts of human rights violations from multiple independent sources - although she stated that a country visit would have been preferable. These sources highlighted several other violations, including Internet and media censorship, restriction of movement, and torture. Belarus' 2008 media law has been used to justify many of these human rights infractions. The High Commissioner finished by recommending that an urgent review of Belarusian legislation be undertaken.

Belarus maintained the position it held at the earlier informal meeting regarding the politicised nature of the discussion, before criticising Pillay’s report on the basis of its second-hand nature - claiming the information it contained was inconsistent with actual events. The delegate also mentioned that Sergei Martynov, the Belarusian Foreign Minister, had extended an invite to the High Commissioner. The Russian Federation, reiterating many of the points made by Belarus, also claimed that Belarus has shown consistent cooperation with the international human rights system, including through successful participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010, actively cooperating with the treaty bodies, and by issuing invitations to special procedures.

As to be expected, the interactive dialogue then became highly divisive, with 17 of the States that spoke rejecting the need for the discussion, and 22 supporting it. Arbitrary arrests, the detention of journalists and human rights defenders, the release of Ales Bialiatski and other political prisoners, freedom of expression, and the diminished ability for civil society to operate were some of the key subjects raised by the speakers. States also demanded a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus, and the introduction of a specific Special Rapporteur for Belarus. Regarding capital punishment, four people have been executed since 2010. In spite of convictions based on circumstantial evidence, and protests from civil society and human rights defenders - two men were executed in connection with the 2011 metro bombing, causing outrage nationally and internationally.

Despite Belarus’s condemnation, a long list of States including Armenia, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, Zimbabwe, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Myanmar, and Turkmenistan sought to defend its human rights record. Many of Belarus’s arguments were regurgitated by these States, however, criticism of the credibility of the EU’s draft resolution and the discussion of Belarus without the State’s consent were some of the most consistent. The politicisation of the Council and the re-establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus (the original mandate on Belarus, established by the Commission on Human Rights, ended in 2007), also came up frequently. The opposing States vehemently argued that the re-introduction of a Special Rapporteur would be retrograde, much like the current sanctions imposed on Belarus. At no point was the release of Ales Bialiatski or any other political prisoner mentioned by these States.

Finally, after the divided dialogue, the High Commissioner gave her closing remarks. Pillay, who mentioned in her presentation that she did receive an invitation from the Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, added that his invitation was strictly conditional. If she visited Belarus the High Commissioner would in no way be allowed to conduct her investigation into the country’s human rights situation. On 6 June the resolution on Belarus was adopted, resulting in the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus. The results of the vote were 22 States for, 5 States against and 20 abstentions.

Advisory Committee to consider latest draft of study on human rights and traditional values


The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) will hold its 9th session from 6 to 10 August 2012 in Geneva. The Committee, composed of 18 expert members, will consider draft reports on the subjects of the traditional values of humankind, human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking, human rights and international solidarity, and the right to food in relation to the urban poor and rural women.

The issue of the traditional values of humankind has been on the Committee’s agenda since it was mandated by the Human Rights Council (the Council) to produce a study on this subject by resolution 16/3 adopted in March 2011. The divisive resolution, adopted with 23 votes in favour and 22 against, was led by the Russian Federation.  

A preliminary draft study was prepared and presented at the 8th session by Mr Vladimir Kartashkin, the rapporteur of the drafting group, in February 2011. This report was very heavily criticised by States, civil society, as well as members of the Committee, and several major areas were identified for address in a redrafted version. The criticisms partly derived from differing interpretations of the Committee’s mandate amongst members.   In particular, several Committee members echoed the concerns of Mr Wolfgang Heinz that the preliminary study did not fulfil the mandate given to the Committee of looking at how traditional values could be used in the implementation of human rights.

The main criticisms that many Committee members felt needed to be addressed in a new draft touched upon the concepts of universality, dignity, responsibility, and family. The language and the approach taken in the preliminary study undermined the universality of human rights most egregiously by subordinating international law agreements to traditional values of humankind. [1] By doing so, the report not only disregarded the normative and legal status of international law, but also disregarded the fact that some traditional values may have a negative impact. Indeed, the rapporteur failed to acknowledge that traditional values can be sources of human rights violations. The preliminary study was for example not clear on the ways in which the concept of dignity has been used in particular to undermine the rights of women. Similarly, the paragraphs on the importance of families for the promotion of human rights and their assumed positive role on the individual disregard the fact that families may be sites of abuse.[2] Furthermore, the report fails to recognise that families may take several forms. Another cause for concern was the way in which the preliminary draft presented the concept of ‘responsibility’  as an obligation according to which a person’s human rights could be denied if he or she commits a crime.

The new draft of the study goes a long way towards addressing the above mentioned issues. First, the concepts of dignity, freedom, and responsibility are presented in the framework of international human rights law, while stating that these concepts are also to be found in many traditions. Contrary to the former draft, the new one includes a section on the relationship between traditional values and human rights which explores how some universal values, such as dignity, on which human rights are based, have roots in diverse traditional and cultural contexts. It also contains a subsection on the negative impact of traditional values on women and minority groups thus addressing one of the main criticisms made to the first study. Finally, the new draft addresses the question of how these values can contribute to the promotion and the protection of human rights through examining the role of human rights education and families, and exposing good practices for promoting and enhancing respect for human rights through appeal to locally familiar values.

In light of these changes and of the divergent views on the issue, the Committee’s debate on traditional values promises to be interesting and potentially animated. It is to be welcomed that the drafting group has taken the concerns of NGOs seriously, and has engaged with those concerns in this new draft.  For this ninth session NGOs can participate through both written and oral statements. The relevant information on the procedure to follow can be found here. The Advisory Committee is scheduled to finalise the study at this session and to present it for consideration to the Human Rights Council’s 21st session, in September.

[1] Paragraph 75 of the preliminary study. Document A/HRC/AC/8/4.
[2] Abuses in the family include female genital mutilation, honour killings, and forced marriages.

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee continues its discussion on traditional values


The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) is currently holding its 9th session in Geneva (from 6 to 10 August).  The Committee held a debate on 6 August on the latest draft of its study on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind (the study). The study has been extremely controversial. Indeed, many States did not vote in favour of the Russian led resolution 16/3 that gives the mandate to the Committee to prepare the study (the resolution was adopted with 24 in favour, 14 against, and 7 abstentions). The first draft of the study was presented at the 8th session by the rapporteur, Committee member Mr Vladimir Kartashkin. It was heavily criticised in several respects[1] by fellow Committee members, States, and NGOs, and it was decided that a new draft needed to be prepared for the 9th session before submission to the Human Rights Council (the Council) in its September session. Committee member Ms Chung Chinsung agreed to take the lead on redrafting the text.

The Committee’s discussion on the study relating to traditional values opened with the statement of the Chairperson of the drafting group, Mr Soofi, who presented the new study and gave an overview of the drafting process. In particular, he mentioned that the drafting group tried to take into account comments and feedback from Committee members, and thanked Ms Chung Chinsung for ‘her excellent input’ as new rapporteur of the study. He also noted that the revised draft includes a section that documents best practices in relation to the implementation of human rights through the use of ‘traditional values’.

Mr Kartashkin immediately took the floor to remind the Committee of the original mandate presented by the Council. He felt that the revised study does not answer the question asked by the Council resolution, that is, how a better understanding and appreciation of traditional values of dignity, freedom, and responsibility can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights, and that the current version ‘is essentially dominated by one point of view’ with proposals and sentences that are ‘mistaken and erroneous’.

The focal point of the dialogue was the section of the report which discusses responsibility. Strongly opposing views were revealed between Committee members.  While Mr Kartashkin is a fervent activist for the inclusion of references to the notion of individual responsibility in promotion and protection of human rights, others were strongly against this.  Ms Boisson de Chazournes noted that individual responsibility is a subject of criminal law as opposed to human rights law, and suggested that a reference to individual responsibility could be made by mentioning the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court which provides for individual responsibility in cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of aggression.[2]

The Russian Federation backed up Mr Kartashkin’s comments by noting that article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides for individual responsibility as well as the Convention of the Rights of the Child which contains a reference to the responsibility of parents. The representative felt that both instruments should be included in the study to illustrate the responsibility of individuals in case of human rights violations. Ms Quisumbing indicated that she would also welcome a reference in the responsibility section to the crucial role of family and community making sure ‘they live up to their responsibilities towards the child’. Mr Seetulsingh acknowledged that States are duty bearers but ‘citizens also have a responsibility to abide by human rights principles’.

Mr Soofi took a more careful approach explaining that even though the study underlines States as primary duty bearers under international law, it does not exclude the responsibility of non-state actors and individuals.  Mr Sakamato, along with Switzerland, and the United States, and NGOs such as ISHR and ICJ, expressed their worries regarding importing the concept of individual responsibility into human rights, stating that not only would this threaten the universality of human rights, but that in any case individual responsibility is not a concept that needs further development in international human rights law.

Russia also continued to stress its opinion that a difference has to be made between traditional values that may have a positive impact and harmful practices. It restated its point that the notion of ‘negative values’ does not exist and is paradoxical.

The drafting group will now have to consider the proposals made with a view to submitting a revised draft for adoption by the Committee by the end of the session on Friday, 10 August. While Mr Kartashkin suggested that the Committee should ask for an extension from the Council of the deadline for submitting the report, other Committee members expressed a preference for finalising the study at this session. ISHR will update this news piece once the session concludes on Friday 10 August, and provide a longer analysis of the session in the October edition of the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly.

[1] See and p.7 of HRQM issue2.2012 p.7.
[2] Article 5 of the Rome Statute.

Council Alert: Human Rights Council September 2012 session


The Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 21st session from 10 to 28 September. For more information including the draft programme of work, the list of reports and the annoted agenda, use the link here. Note that the programme of work remains subject to change. Information concerning NGOs and how to participate within the Council can be found here. The orginisational meeting for the upcoming session, led by the Council President Laura Dupuy Lasserre, was held on 27 August. During the meeting States discussed the programme of work for the Council’s 21st Session and the various planned panel discussion.

Expected highlights of the session

The Council will have an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria on Monday 17 September. This is expected to be the final report of the COI before the Council, after which the Special Rapporteur on Syria will take over. This follows on from the two reports already presented by the COI on Syria and its ongoing civil war. The COI report does not deviate much from the previous two reports that have been presented to the Council.

In the interactive dialogue with the Council the COI is likely to reiterate its existing call for an end to gross violations and related impunity of human rights, and reinforce its recommendation for continued monitoring with a view to ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable. However, the appointment of Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the Joint Special Envoy following the resignation of Kofi Annan in August, and the third resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2012, are likely to influence the nature of the discussion.

The Council will also hold interactive dialogues with three country specific mandates. The Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Independent Experts on Somalia and Sudan will present their reports to the Council.

This will be the first time that an Independent Expert will report on Sudan since the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. The Independent Expert’s report follows from discussion in June 2011 that focused on the serious human rights violations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Reflecting the creation of a new State and the human right violations there will likely be calls for a stronger mandate on Sudan, and a resurgence of calls for a mandate on South Sudan.

Although not specifically on the Council’s agenda, the human rights situations in Sri Lanka and Bahrain are likely to attract significant attention. At its March session, the Council had requested OHCHR to present a report in March 2013 only. However, given the UPR of Sri Lanka planned for 1 November, debates are likely to start in September. Likewise, Bahrain was the subject of a cross regional joint statement in June 2012, and will be of continued concern during the September session, not least because the UPR report on Bahrain will be adopted.

At this session, 15 thematic special procedure mandate holders will present their reports, in a series of grouped interactive dialogues.

The Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, will present his report to the Council on Tuesday 11 September. This will be the first report on this issue since his mandate was established through a Council resolution in September 2011.

The Council will convene a panel entitled ‘Cooperation with UN Human Rights mechanisms: issues of intimidation or reprisals’. The panel, sponsored by Hungary, will be held on Thursday 13 September and is a result of Decision 18/118. The panel is part of an ongoing focus on this issue that builds on reports and resolutions made at the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, and continued at the Council.

In a separate debate under Item 5, the Council will consider the latest report by the Secretary General and will build on material from previous reports that include information on cooperating with any part of the UN human rights system, and not just the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies. The report uses stronger language than previous iterations and calls for a move to ‘go beyond reporting’. It outlines clear and solid support for the initiatives and engaged role of the Council’s President and the High Commissioner and for greater involvement on the issue by the Council. While during previous considerations of the Secretary-General’s report, concerned States were largely silent, it will be interesting to observe if the greater attention to reprisals elicits a more specific response.


NGO Opportunity: ECOSOC accredited NGOs and human rights defenders can raise examples of cases where States have failed to fulfil their expected role in handling alleged reprisals. Accredited NGOs can participate in the panel via video message or through attendance in Geneva.

The Russian Federation announced during the organisational meeting that it plans on proposing a new draft resolution on the connection between traditional values and universal human rights. The draft resolution has not been released and is not available at the time of writing. This draft resolution is being introduced despite a delay in the presentation and review of the Council’s Advisory Committee report on promoting fundamental human rights through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind. The report will now be presented at the 22nd session of the Council, in March 2013.

The delay follows a heated debate on the issue in the Advisory Committee that has proven to be a divisive issue for the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee acts as a think tank for the Council and, in addition to traditional values, discusses a number of topics mandated by the Council, including the right of people to peace, the right to food, the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, and international solidarity.

The announced resolution by the Russian Federation builds on previous texts on this issue, over which NGOs and States have expressed concern. Traditional values are often seen to undermine rather than promote human rights. The traditional values argument, if accepted, could limit the ability to question harmful practices occurring in many States, including in the context of consideration by other human right mechanisms such as the UPR and treaty bodies. Russia and the 28 sponsors of the original resolution in 2009 refused to reaffirm that no State has the right to invoke traditional values to counter, limit or avoid their obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Russia’s traditional values resolution continues the worrying trend of resolutions with questionable content from a human rights perspective, such as the efforts of Pakistan with its, now defunct, ‘defamation of religion’ resolutions. This trend has the potential to discredit the Council as an international moral compass.

Finally, The Council will appoint three new mandate holders for the positions of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. Interestingly, the Ambassador of Cuba has recently replaced the Ambassador of Honduras in the consultative group, a group of five representatives of the Regional Groups, serving in their personal capacities, responsible for shortlisting candidates for appointment by the President of the Council. The Cuban Ambassador, having been one of the most ardent critics of the establishment of a mandate on Belarus, will find himself in a tricky situation having to select the best-qualified mandate holder.

The Council will also elect new members of the Advisory Committee. The only current nominees for election to the Advisory Committee are Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani from Bahrain and Mario L. Coriolano from Argentina; their biographical data can be found here. In this context, during the organisational meeting, Amnesty International noted that even if there are no more candidates for election than vacancies, there should be a ballot (and not merely an acclamation as announced by the President) because a ballot is the only mechanism that exists to allow member States to give effect to paragraph 68 of the institution-building package, which provides that persons in conflict of interests shall be excluded from election to the Advisory Committee.

Universal Periodic Review

The adoption of the UPR report on Bahrain will provide an opportunity to build on the joint statement and to put pressure on the Council to consider paying attention to the situation outside of the UPR framework.

Adoption of the UPR reports of Morocco and Tunisia is also on the agenda. These reports reflect positive trends in human rights development in both countries that have accompanied their political changes in the Arab Spring. The reviews in the UPR Working Group for both of these countries have been overwhelmingly positive in their evaluation of the changes in these nations and have outlined a number of recommendations for the fledgling democracies. The adoption of the reports provides an opportunity for human rights defenders to critically reflect on the positive picture painted by the States in the UPR.


NGO Opportunity: As part of the opening of the UPR dialogue, NGOs and human rights defenders are able to participate in the dialogue by video message. This is the only time that NGOs get to formally participate in the UPR process and provides an important opportunity to highlight critical issues. Video submission can be made from anywhere in the world, as long as they satisfy the criteria.

Overall, the session will be heavier than the one held in June as there are a larger number of expected resolutions and UPR adoptions further weighing down the agenda. Senegal (on behalf of the African Group) raised this issue, noting that the very full agenda made it difficult for the small delegations to contribute effectively. June has shown that a more manageable workload during the sessions may lead to more substantive debates and better engagement by all delegations, particularly small ones, and the Council would do well to consider that lesson for the future.

Resolutions to be brought at the 21st session, as mentioned at the organisational meeting

Decision convening a Panel in March 2013 on the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Austria)

Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity building – improvement of last year’s resolution, determining the theme of the March 2013 panel on technical cooperation, and focus on how the council can support the implementation of UPR recommendations (Thailand)

Human rights and extreme poverty – adoption of the guiding principles developed by the Special rapporteur (France)

Human rights and indigenous peoples – omnibus text bringing together all agreed language (Guatemala and Mexico)

Human rights education and training – follow up to the Global Programme on human rights education (Costa Rica)

Human rights and transitional justice – Focus on the gender perspective in transitional justice measures (Switzerland)

International solidarity and human rights (Cuba)

Maternal Mortality and Morbidity – with Colombia and New Zealand – in line with last year’s resolution, follow up to the OHCHR guidelines on maternal mortality and morbidity prevention (Burkina Faso)

Private military societies (African Group)

Promoting an equitable democratic order (Cuba)

Racism (African Group)

Right to development – capturing the latest developments in the Council’s proceedings (Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement)

Right to peaceful assembly and association – building upon the resolution establishing the SR mandate (USA)

Right to truth – based on the previously agreed texts and building upon the reports prepared by the OHCHR (Argentina)

Safety of journalists – on behalf of a group of delegations (Austria)

Use of mercenaries to violate human rights and prevent and impede the achievement of human rights (Cuba)

Traditional values of mankind – Examples and good practices to ensure a truly universal recognition of human rights. (Russia)

There are four thematic panel discussions planned for the 21stsession

These panels are all the result of resolutions adopted by the Council. The following panel discussions will be held:

Intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups having cooperated with the UN
The panel will include a video message by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and have an opening statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay. Other panelists include Mr Hassan Shire of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, and Ms Mehr Khan Williams, Chair of the ISHR board. The panel will be convened on Thursday 13 September.

Human Rights and indigenous people: Access to justice

This panel will take place on Thursday 18 September and will focus on the conflict that arises from access to justice and equity for indigenous people.

Integration of gender perspective in the UN system

This panel will be convened on Thursday 20 September. This year the focus of the discussion is on empowerment of women through economic, social and cultural rights. As part of the panel closed captioning, sign language and wheel chair access will be provided to open up access to the debate.

International Nelson Mandela Day

This panel will be convened on Friday 21 September.

NGOs warn against potential reprisals at meeting with President of Human Rights Council


The President of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Laura Dupuy Lasserre, held a meeting with NGOs on 5 September 2012 to discuss the 21st session of the Human Rights Council (10-28 September). Participants in the meeting expressed concerns relating to the NGO participation, including the potential for reprisals against human rights defenders attending the session.

Reprisals were mentioned as a particular worry in the case of those participating in the UPR adoption of Bahrain in the light of threats made against defenders during the UPR of Bahrain. There was a suggestion made by an NGO that a general statement condemning reprisals against those who cooperate with UN human rights organisations be made at the opening of the session, as a preventative measure. NGOs noted that the Office of the President has a duty to ensure that civil society has a voice in the UN free from threats.

There was some concern expressed that Russia’s preemptive push for a resolution on traditional values shows disrespect for institutional procedure, given that the study requested from the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the subject, which was due to be presented to this session of the Council, will be delayed until March 2013.

A key focal point of the discussion was the nominee for election to the Advisory Committee from Bahrain, Mr Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani. Mr Al Faihani is currently the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and has served for many years in various Government positions, including as Ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

There was a push by various NGOs that Mr Al Faihani should be excluded as a candidate because he holds a decision-making position in government. The Council’s institution-building package (resolution 5/1) states in relation to elections to the Advisory Committee that, ‘[i]ndividuals holding decision-making positions in Government or in any other organistion or entity which might give rise to a conflict of interest with the responsibilities inherent in the mandate shall be excluded’. The President commented that it would be necessary to look in more detail at what is meant by a ‘conflict of interest’.

The 21st session will be Ms Lasserre’s last session as the Council’s President with the next president coming from the Eastern European Group.

Registration for NGO speakers for this session opens on Friday 7 September at 2pm Geneva time; registration can be completed using the link here. Note that there have been changes in registration for the UPR adoptions, which should now be signed up for on Friday 7 September at 2pm along with all other speaking slots. 

UPR of Bahrain: delegation fails to acknowledge ongoing human rights violations


On 21 May 2012 the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commenced with the thirteenth session of the working group, opening with an examination of Bahrain. Anticipation for the commencement of the second cycle was marked by concern that the process would involve the repetition of recommendations accepted during the first round of reviews. However, these worries were not realised as recent events in Bahrain dominated discussion, shifting focus away from the last review.

The delegation of Bahrain approached the review against the backdrop of year-long anti-government protests that created numerous and diverse human rights concerns. In this context, the opening statement of Bahrain’s Minister of State for Human Rights Affairs, Mr Salah Bin Ali Mohamed Abdulrahman, was bemusing. He spoke vaguely yet optimistically of Bahrain’s ‘culture of respect’ for human rights, delicately avoiding mention of the protests beyond allusions to ‘unfortunate events’ and ‘certain occurrences’. Throughout the review, the Bahraini delegation tried to direct attention to the future when questioned about human rights violations related to the protests, defeating the regularly reiterated commitment of States to a ‘frank and productive dialogue’.

Nevertheless, most of the 67 States on the speakers’ list remained persistent in raising the immediate and severe human rights concerns facing Bahrain. While the introduction of a 1 minute 49 second time limit[1] did not lead all representatives to dispense with flowery congratulations and formalities, most posed their questions directly and relatively quickly, focussing on the need to:

  • Promote the rights of women, gender equality and implement CEDAW
  • Introduce legislation protecting the rights of children, particularly the citizenship rights of children of Bahraini mothers and non-Bahraini fathers
  • Reform industrial relations, particularly by protecting the rights of migrant workers and introducing an anti-trafficking policy
  • Protect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and release civilians detained on related grounds. In particular, the cases of Abdulhadi al-Khwaja and Nabeel Rajab were cited
  • Address allegations of torture and educate law enforcement officials on human rights. The delegates also confirmed the importance of inviting the Special Rapporteur on Torture to Bahrain
  • Ensure the freedom of the media
  • Conduct new trials for defendants convicted in military courts
  • Ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, Rome Statute and optional protocols to CEDAW and CAT
  • Abolish the death penalty.

To some degree, the Bahraini delegation engaged with questions surrounding the first three of these issues, appreciating States’ congratulations for advancements made and accepting that the courses adopted must be stayed. However, the delegates quickly and sometimes curtly dismissed questions relating to the next four issues, and failed to meaningfully recognise questions posed regarding the last two. The recommendations concerning ratifying Conventions, strengthening judicial processes, providing citizenship rights to children of non-Bahraini fathers, and freedom of expression and the media were made following the last review, with little action taken since. A worrying tendency to deflect responsibility away from the Government emerged at an early stage in proceedings. For example, Mr Abdulrahman referred, throughout the session, to the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to address allegations of torture and other human rights violations emerging from the protests. It seemed that the delegation considered that merely establishing such mechanisms relieved the State of the need to engage with these problems further.

This frustrated discussions,  as States reiterated concerns about freedom of expression, torture, freedom of the press, and trials conducted in military courts. Switzerland was among the first to focus on the right to freedom of expression, with many other States echoing the call for the release of citizens detained for peacefully protesting. The Bahraini delegation denied that any prisoners were detained on that basis and claimed that all imprisoned persons are accused of criminal conduct. Mr Abdulrahman deftly met Denmark’s call for Mr Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to be released to Denmark for medical treatment, by claiming that the Government cannot, under any circumstances, interfere with the ‘perfect independence’ of the Bahraini judiciary. Queries from numerous States regarding allegations of torture in prisons were swiftly dismissed with reference to the BICI’s investigation, and the right of citizens to submit personal grievances to the Office of the Prosecutor. These denials were framed by the claim that the security forces never used indiscriminate power in quashing protests, and that any force that was used was absolutely necessary to maintain the security of Bahrain.

The delegation also explained away several issues by describing time-intensive legal processes obstructing law reform. Concerns about delays in the passage of laws establishing the freedom of the media, recommended in the last review, were addressed in this way. Mr Abdulrahman explained the delays by referring to Bahrain’s dedication to establishing a ‘comprehensive’ framework for free media, though he affirmed the Government’s continuing duty to review media content and remove material that could incite violence or hatred. During its first review, Bahrain had accepted a recommendation to bring its press law into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This recommendation was repeated, with Japan alleging that a proposed press law was even more restrictive than the old law.

Mr Abdulrahman also referred to Bahrain’s desire to be thorough in reforming human rights laws to explain its continuing failure, since the last review, to ratify various international Conventions which have been approved ‘in principle’. Many other issues were barely given lip service, such as the destruction of places of worship and abolition of the death penalty.

Bahrain’s reluctance to engage with States might be explained by the legitimate desire, observable in many States that have experienced serious upheaval or conflict, to rebuild and move forward. However, the Bahraini delegation’s focus on the future was completely unacceptable in light of reports of ongoing human rights violations. The delegation’s insistence on looking beyond events of the recent past, pausing only to note that Bahrain has accepted all recommendations from the last review, defeated the potential for constructive dialogue on current and severe human rights violations.

At the adoption of the report by the UPR Working Group, the Bahraini delegation stated that it would consider the 164 recommendations made and would provide its responses to the 21st session of the Human Rights Council (the Council). It added that while some of the recommendations made may go against national law, the separation of powers, or the sovereignty of Bahrain, the delegation nevertheless appreciated all those recommendations and would undertaken in-depth discussions with relevant authorities with the view to accepting as many as possible. 

The adoption of the report was primarily notable for a statement by the President of the Council referring to a media campaign being run in Bahrain that identified and threatened members of civil society who had engaged with the UPR process. She listed the names of those threatened, calling on the Government of Bahrain to carry out follow-up and ensure that these people are able to return safely to the country.  

The delegation responsed extremely defensively, denying that threats had been made and describing the President's comments as 'unfounded allegations'. Several points of order were made (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Belarus, Kuwait) some criticising the President's intervention as setting an unwarranted precedent by referring to issues relating to the 'sovereignty of States', that go beyond the UPR and the report under review. Further, it was argued that the President should not not take it upon herself to speak on behalf of the Human Rights Council. The President responded by stating that she was carrying out the decision taken by member States in paragraph 30 of the outcome document of the review of the Council (adopted in 2011), which 'strongly rejects any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and urges States to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts'.

[1] The time allocation for States is set at three minutes for member States of the Council and two minutes for observers, except where this would mean that not all States can be accommodated in the total time available. In these cases the time available is divided equally between all States signed up to speak. This was one of the procedural changes included in the outcome of the review of the work and functioning of the Human Rights Council, which concluded in 2011.


Ban Ki-moon outlines key challenges for the Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council (the Council) commenced its 21st session on 10 September 2012, with opening statements by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay.

In Ban Ki-moon’s address to the Council he highlighted the critical role that the Council plays in human dignity and the importance of upholding a decent life for all.

The Secretary-General particularly welcomed the intergovernmental discussion, in March 2012, on discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He urged the Council to deepen its engagement on this issue, with a call to give it sustained attention. In the general debate that followed, however, Norway was the only country that made strong reference to this issue.

The Secretary-General outlined five critical challenges that warrant the attention of the Council:

  1. Mainstreaming human rights throughout the UN
  2.  The issue of reprisals against those who cooperate and work with the UN and its various institutions
  3. Need to uphold the dignity of all human beings and end discrimination against those who define their sexual orientation and gender identity differently
  4. The ongoing fight for women’s rights
  5. Member state support of the High Commissioner, including through ensuring the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has sufficient resources, while respecting her independence.

His speech concluded by calling on the Council to ‘be in the forefront in upholding the indivisibility and equal treatment of all human rights’. High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay’s opening statement also made special note of the indivisibility of human rights and the role her office has had in promoting these rights.

The High Commissioner addressed the issue of reprisals making particular reference to Bahrain where there have been severe prison sentences handed out to human rights defenders. She stressed that she was ‘not satisfied that fair trial procedures were observed, especially the reliance on confessions extracted under torture’. She went on to note that this is part of a broader issue of reprisals as cases of threats and intimidation continue to be documented.

This point was reiterated by the President of the Council, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, who stressed resolution 16/21, the outcome of the review of the work and functioning of the Council, which strongly rejects any act of reprisals against those that cooperate with the UN or the Council.

The United States (US) noted that combating reprisals must be a priority for the Council. Norway, the Czech Republic, and Chile also made reference to the importance of addressing reprisals, with Chile advocating a preventative approach to the issue. The panel discussion on reprisals against those cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms will be held on 13 September, and is expected to result in concrete suggestions for different actors to prevent and address reprisals.

A key part of the general debate that followed was the financial constraints of OHCHR. Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Russian Federation spoke on the need to ensure transparency of funding of the Office. In particular these States called for a written report to be made of the informal briefing held in June where the High Commissioner updated States on her strategic plan for the next two years. This push has the potential to undermine the independence of the Office and could lead to States in the Human Rights Council attempting to oversee how the OHCHR’s finances are used. In response, other States including Belgium and Norway emphasised the point made by the Secretary General on the need to find more sustainable ways of resourcing OHCHR while maintaining its independence.

Chile, in relation to resource constraints, expressed its concern over the proliferation of special procedures. It did, however, stress the importance of the role of the thematic and country mandates and went on to emphasise that budgetary issues should not remove the focus of the Council from human rights.

In reference to the issue of the budget constraints the High Commissioner noted in her opening statement that ‘in the end, we must be realistic’.

The High Commissioner reiterated the Secretary-General’s concern over the on-going conflict in Syria and called on the Syrian government to ensure full and unhindered access to the Commission of Inquiry, as well as calling for full support to the newly appointed Joint Special Representative Mr Lakhdar Brahimi.

The US later called for an extension of the mandate of the Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry is scheduled to complete its work with the report to the Council at this session, unless States decide to renew its mandate. The Special Rapporteur on Syria is scheduled to take up his post once the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry concludes.

Qatar was particularly vocal in their assessment of the situation in Syria and the ‘barbaric nature of this regime’. It noted that international condemnation is not sufficient in the context of the ongoing conflict and that the Council must hear the legitimate calls for freedom and push for an immediate ceasefire.

The High Commissioner touched on the reforms taking place in Myanmar encouraging the release of more political prisoners and ongoing legislative reform. Notably, Malaysia, Libya, and Egypt expressed concern at the violence against Muslims in the Rahkine and Kachin states of Myanmar.

Norway commented on how to ensure OHCHR’s impact at country level, noting that the demand for technical assistance was increasing, and noted a need to strengthen field presences to meet this demand.

On the treaty body strengthening process, the Russian Federation positioned itself as a leading actor, by welcoming the High Commissioner’s report on the consultations facilitated by OHCHR, noting that ‘it could be a major input to the process initiated by Russia in the General Assembly’.

For a copy of the High Commissioner’s full opening statement follow the link here. The 21st session will continue for the next three weeks before concluding on 28 September. For the full agenda follow the link here.

Landmark panel on reprisals at the Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council’s (the Council’s) first ever panel on reprisals, held on 13 September, saw widespread condemnation of intimidation of those who cooperate or attempt to cooperate with the United Nations (UN) human rights system.

See previous ISHR news coverage on reprisals on our website. For comprehensive background on the discussions within the UN human rights system, and the Human Rights Council in particular leading up to this panel debate, see Respect and Protect? Exploring the need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to strengthen its response to reprisals a joint publication by ISHR and the independent researcher Jo Baker, available here.

Opening the panel via video-message, the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, emphasised the importance for States to protect human rights and those who advocate for fundamental rights. He sasid that if States failed to do so, it is the responsibility of the UN to stand up and speak out to defend those who engage with the UN human rights system.

In her opening statement the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay highlighted both the need and the right of human rights defenders to participate in the work of the UN. She emphasised the crucial role human rights defenders play in the work of the UN, informing about the on-the-ground reality of situations. Mr Michel Forst, speaking as Chair of the Coordination Committee of special procedures, noted that human rights defenders are often the first source of information for special procedures. He related how difficult it was on a personal level for a mandate holder to return from a mission and to learn that defenders with whom they had met had suffered intimidation, abuse, or even death as a result of sharing information.

Underlying these remarks was the point that the UN is only credible insofar as it does engage with human rights defenders, a point raised by the High Commissioner and echoed by other panellists including Ms Mehr Khan Williams, Chair of the Board of the International Service for Human Rights; and Mr Szabolc Takacs, Deputy State Secretary for Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hungary. States from different regions also reiterated the point throughout the debate. Qatar spoke of the ‘moral responsibility’ to ensure those who assist us are not endangered. The UK, Norway, and Denmark, and Amnesty International, stated that reprisals are attacks on the UN system itself, while Australia stated that reprisals ‘undermine everything the UN seeks to achieve’.

Several human rights defenders contributed to the debate by speaking of the particular threats they had faced, including a defender from Bahrain who has received multiple phone calls threatening his life and his family after tweeting about his attendance at this session of the Council. He emphasised the expectation defenders have that the UN remain free from fear, as for some it is the only place where they can make themselves heard.

Norway commented on the need to give due attention to the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals. Mr Takacs suggested that Item 5 of the Council’s agenda could be used as a space for holding a dedicated discussion on the report and on reprisals. Mr Shire Sheikhahmed of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project emphasised the importance of following up more effectively to the report, and holding regular, timely and dedicated discussions on the report. The UK and Norway called on all States in the report to provide a response outlining the steps taken to investigate allegations and hold perpetrators accountable. In a joint statement on behalf of Austria, Lichtenstein, and Slovenia, the Ambassador of Switzerland was the only one to specifically name States including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, India, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, requesting them to closely cooperate with the Council and to take ‘all necessary steps to investigate and ensure accountability’ in the alleged cases.

Several of the States mentioned criticised the report. China raised strong objections to the inclusion in the report of allegations of harassment of Chinese human rights defenders who had taken part in a training course in Geneva, questioning whether this fell within the scope of reprisals through cooperation with the UN human rights system. Norway, on the other hand, joined the Secretary-General in including ‘learning’ about the UN human rights system as a an element of seeking cooperation. Sri Lanka and Belarus also stood against the report, arguing against its ‘double-standards’ and perceived political approach. They raised the issue of the need for credible sources that are ‘cross-checked’. Cuba called for prior screening to ensure that complaints made are at least ‘minimally credible’ in order not to undermine the trust and confidence that States have in the UN system, and threaten credibility. Bahrain supported this view, arguing that objectivity in the report must be based in credible sources, rather than audio-visual media and social networking sites. In response, Mr Takacs quoted the report, in which the Secretary-General affirms that ‘information has been corroborated through multiple sources and assessed for its reliability and consistency’.

While there was general agreement that States have the primary responsibility to protect against reprisals, there was some discussion about the responsibility of other actors, especially when States will not or cannot meet their obligations in this regard. Reflecting this point, Dr Ramiro Rivadeneira Silva, Defensoria del Pueblo of Ecuador (Ombudsman of Ecuador), on behalf of the Network of NHRIs in the Americas, stated that there are violent groups in Latin America that have outrun the capacity of States to provide security to defenders. He emphasised the importance for the UN system to be capable of receiving and denouncing the complaints by human right defenders and to offer immediate and concrete responses to their issues. He also proposed to establish a system of protection for the lives and families of defenders that continue to be threatened.

Poland, echoing a point made by Mr Shire Sheikhahmed, called for the international community to enhance cooperation between mechanisms in order to provide a more systematic response, while the UK asked the panel how States could assist each other to meet their obligations in this regard. Mr Shire Sheikhahmed also spoke of civil society’s response, in particular the importance of networks, such as the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, as an essential element of the protection response for human rights defenders. Mr Forst suggested that transregional groups of States should work together to establish joint initiatives for the protection of defenders, such as for example establishing asylum agreements, or providing shelter in diplomatic missions. This, he said, could also include a group of Ambassadors in Geneva joining forces in protecting defenders coming to the Council.

The idea of appointing a focal point on reprisals within different branches of the State and other actors also gained traction. Mr Claudio Grossman, another panellist and Chair of the Committee Against Torture, suggested appointing an interlocutor in States that looks out for any potential acts of reprisals before they take place. He proposed establishing a mechanism at the national level that facilitates the dialogue with human rights defenders. France echoed Mr Grossman’s proposals by raising the idea of establishing a ‘mediator’ at the level of the UN, appointed by the Secretary-General, whose function would be to investigate alleged cases of intimidation or reprisals and assure that measures have been taken to follow up such allegations.

Mr Grossman also raised the importance of creating an environment in which everyone has the space to enjoy and uphold human rights. States supported this approach, listing concrete examples of initiatives that could be taken. The US condemned national laws and actions that prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their work. Mr Grossman particularly emphasised the need to repeal defamation laws that restrict freedom of expression, and are often used to criminalise the work of human rights defenders. On the other hand, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, and Belarus, expressed their opinion that defenders must act within national laws.

On Tuesday, 18 September, the Council will hold a general debate under Item 5. This will be another opportunity for States and NGOs to discuss the report of the Secretary-General on reprisals, and it will be interesting to observe if the concerned States heed the repeated calls from their peers to update the Council on the allegations contained in the report.

Then will be up to the Council to now follow-up on the basis of the many suggestions made. As the Secretary General stated, the panel should act as ‘a catalyst for robust and coordinated action throughout the UN system to systematically condemn and respond to persecution and intimidation’. Given that the next formal resolution on this issue is currently only planned for September 2013, it is to be hoped that the fate of individuals suffering reprisals will not be ‘shelved’ for 12 months, but that the increased levels of attention and concern will translate in concrete and protective action.



If the United Nations (UN) is to effectively monitor State compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse globally, it is crucial that human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations can access and communicate with the UN freely and safely. Unfortunately, ‘free’ and ‘safe’ are not hallmarks of the experience for many defenders and victims who seek to engage with the UN. 

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